The Three Levels of Preparing

A FEMA map showing county by county counts of Presidential declared disasters for the period 1964-2007

It is easy to think of prepping as being one single set of actions, designed to prepare for any and all future challenges as/when/if they occur, and of the differences between types of situations and necessary responses as being on a smooth continuum, from trivial and minor to life changing/threatening and major.

This is only partially true, and masks the very different types of situations and preparations required.  There are very different sets of responses to different types of situations – perhaps best to think of prepping like a plane, which you control very differently while taxiing on the ground compared to when flying through the air.

In fact, rather than just two modes of response (like a plane), we suggest it is most helpful to create three different sets of future challenges, and to identify prepping solutions for each of these, because the three different types of preparations are very different from each other.  These three levels of preparing, and the three levels of future challenges, are :

Level 1 :  Short Term

Short term problems are those which are, obviously enough, of short duration.  They are events that clearly have an expected resolution to them via society’s normal mechanisms, and it is just a case of waiting for the issues to be resolved.

An example of a short term problem would be a major storm, flood, or power outage.  Such events could inconvenience you for anywhere from an hour or two up to perhaps a week or two.  Lesser events can be considered, too – having your car break down on the side of the road late at night, for example.

In such cases your response to such challenges generally does not require evacuating your normal residence – indeed, by definition, any Short Term/Level 1 events are ones which do not require you to leave home.

You may lose power, you may lose other utilities, and you may have transportation challenges, and there may be regional disruptions to normal social support functions.  But the functioning of the country as a whole remains unchallenged, and in some form or another, you know that matters will, in the foreseeable future, return to normal.  Society is not disrupted, you don’t have lawlessness or looting.

How/what do you prepare for and respond to a Level 1/Short Term disruption?  Things like an emergency generator and enough fuel to power it for a couple of weeks.  Extra fuel for at least one of your vehicles.  Food and water for a couple of weeks.  A two-way radio, although there’s a good chance your landline and cell phones will still work, as may also your internet.

You only slightly modify your normal lifestyle, and you are secure in the certainty that life will be back to normal well before you’ve exhausted your emergency supplies.

A person can be well prepared for Level 1 events without needing to outlay more than $10,000, and probably without needing to outlay much more than $1,000.

Level 2 :  Medium Term

These are obviously events which are more major than Level 1 events.  We define Level 2 events by the need to abandon your normal residence and move somewhere else.  Level 2 events disrupt the total fabric of your region, and are more open ended in terms of when and how matters will return to normal.  They might be natural – a solar storm wiping out our power grid, for example.  They might be economic – a collapse in the global economy – something which we seem to be flirting with at present.  They might be the result of military action, or could be any one of many other issues – maybe even something minor which then snowballs and destroys the increasingly fragile and delicate state of today’s modern interdependent society.

Level 2 events may even threaten people’s lives due to interruptions not only to utility services such as water, sewer, power/gas, trash, and communications, but also due to disruptions to the distribution system for food, gasoline, and other essentials – disruptions which appear likely to extend beyond the point at which most non-preppers can cope.

Some lawlessness and looting will develop, as desperate people search for food.

On the other hand, these problems, as severe as they are, have some sort of an eventual happy ending and resolution clearly in sight, such as to see the restoration of normal infrastructure and a return to ‘life as we know it’ (LAWKI) at some reasonable point in the future.

How do you prepare for and respond to a Level 2/Medium Term disruption?  You need a secure location where you can shelter from the lawlessness that may envelope cities and other areas of dense population, and where you can create your own little bubble of comfort, safety, and what passes for civilization.

Possibly your retreat will still have essential services connected to it (power most of all), but you’ll be prepared for an eventuality without power.

You’ll live primarily from stored supplies without worrying too much about replenishing them.  Sure, you’ll try and reduce your reliance on external sources of most things, but you’ll not feel the need to become 100% self-reliant or to adopt a 100% sustainable independent life.  Instead, you’ll happily live off your stockpiles of food, energy sources, and whatever else, because you can see a clear restoration of ‘normalcy’ at some point within a year or so.

You need two way radio communication to supplement any remaining ‘normal’ types of communication, but primarily to communicate among yourselves, and perhaps augmented by a shortwave radio receiver so you can keep updated with news of ‘the rest of the world’ and what is happening to resolve the problems your region has suffered.

You may choose to do this independently by yourself, because you have the supplies and resources you need.  Alternatively, and perhaps for optional social reasons rather than for any essential needs, you may choose to band together with other prepared people too.

Level 2 clearly requires a massively greater amount of preparation (and expenditures) than Level 1.  If you have only prepared for Level 1 contingencies, you’ll have a problem surviving a Level 2 event, primarily due to not having a retreat location to move to.  Cities will quickly become lethal environments, and even if you successfully manage to evacuate the city you live in, so what?  Where will you move to?  See our article about the modern day imbalance between city and rural life – there’s no way that small country towns can suddenly accept four times more people than they had before as refugees from the cities.  If you don’t have somewhere to go to, already prepared, you have in effect nowhere to go to.

Preparing for a Level 2 event will cost you anywhere from $100,000 as an absolute bare-bones minimum up to $1 million or more.  These costs will start to encourage you to adopt group/shared solutions.  While two people can never live (or prepare) as cheaply as one, they sure can do so for much less than double the cost.  There’s not only safety in numbers, but economy too.

If you feel it impractical to consider preparing to Level 2 standards yourself, don’t give up.  The reality is that a Level 2 condition is close to essential.  Maybe Code Green can help.  Ask about becoming a member of our cooperative community and how you can benefit from shared investments in Level 2 and Level 3 preparations.

Level 3 :  Long Term

This is the big one.  Society has broken down.  Something has destroyed much of the infrastructure not just of your region, and not just of the United States, but of most of the entire world.  This might be a bio-disaster (a flu pandemic as has several times come very close in the last decade) or a global conflict, or an EMP pulse, or any one of many other events.Y

ou’re not yet reduced to a stone age life-style, but you’ve no idea when you’ll be able to resupply any of the items you’ve stockpiled, and so your focus now is on sustainable ongoing self-contained living.

Whereas in Level 1 events, you happily lived off and even squandered your stored supplies, sure in the knowledge that the event was short term, and in Level 2 events, you were more prudent and glad you had spares for essential items and generous amounts of ‘just in case’ materials, with Level 3 events, you’re not just focused on spares for essential items, but on how to build replacement products from raw materials and how to adjust to a life with massively fewer modern and complex appliances.

You of course have needed to evacuate if you lived in a city, and the lawlessness (or arbitrary capricious unilateral attempts at imposing draconian ‘order’) is pervasive.  It is an ‘every man for himself’ sort of situation, and yes, it may also become a ‘kill or be killed’ situation too.  Starving people, facing certain death for themselves and their families, will have no choice but to fight for food and shelter, and you in turn will have no choice but to defend that which you have.

You need to change your lifestyle so that you can become self-sustaining and self-sufficient.  Sure, you’ll use up your stockpiled supplies as you devolve down to a level of sustainable self-sufficiency, and as you do so, you realize that you might never be able to replace such things.  You need to become both energy and food independent, and your energy independence needs to be not just in the form of PV solar cells (because what do you do as they degrade and fail, in a situation where you have no replacements and where you can’t create the underlying pre-requisite technology to manufacture more) but rather in the form of some type of energy source that you can maintain and operate indefinitely.

Food independence can be slightly modified by trading off surpluses of the types of food you can grow with surpluses of food developed by other nearby families and communities.

You need to become part of a community because you don’t have enough resources, by yourself and with whatever handful of friends and family are with you, to have all the talents, skills, and resources necessary to optimize your life.  You need to be able to communicate, bi-directionally, not just locally and regionally, but nationally and internationally, so as to understand what has happened to and what is happening to the rest of your country and the world, and to coordinate your activities with those of other pockets of survivors.

If you have already prepared for a Level 2 contingency, you’ll have a ‘parachute’ to cushion your crash-landing down into the post-industrial society that you’ll be entering.  The most important thing is you have a place to retreat to, and enough supplies and resources to buy you some time to urgently start adapting to the new future staring you in the face.

It would be better, of course, if you already have some Level 3 planning and preparations in place, but if you’re already at Level 2, you’re way ahead of most other people.

How much does it cost to be prepared for a Level 3 situation?  That’s a question with a huge range of possible answers, and it depends on how much of life’s former comforts you want to try and preserve and for how long, how much you want to have in place to devolve down to less complex forms of technology, and how far you can split such costs with fellow preppers.

This is where Code Green Prep can help.  Ask about becoming a member of our cooperative community and how you can benefit from shared investments in Level 2 and Level 3 preparations.

Here’s a table showing some of the key differences in these three levels of future event and their implications to us as preppers.


Item Level 1 Level 2 Level 3
Duration Short – maybe up to a week or two Medium – perhaps up to a year Longterm
Likelihood of Occuring Varies regionally, but between likely and definite every 5 – 10 years Take your best guess.  A disruptive solar storm = 12% chance every 10 years.  Other risks = you decide. More likely than you’d wish for.  What are the chances of Bird Flu evolving and a global pandemic wiping out a huge slice of the world’s population?  Might Iran or N Korea detonate an EMP over the US?  etc.
Return to Normalcy Assured Very likely Not for a long time, maybe generations
Regional Scope Probably local and limited Extensive, possibly national Definitely national, maybe continental, possibly impacting much/all the world
External Assistance Yes, expected Maybe some, but not much and such resource as there is will be massively over-extended and unable to cope Probably none for extended periods of time
Survivability if Unprepared Yes with some inconvenience and discomfort Marginal to low Very low
Social Disruption Possibly some limited opportunistic rioting and looting, brought under control within a week or so Major, probably new forms of small community government and policing programs will spring up to create pockets of order among much lawlessness Complete.  Organized gangs will dominate
Relocation Can survive in your normal abode Due to breakdown of city services, need to relocate Essential
Food strategy Not a constraint You’ll survive by eating through your stockpiles of food in the hope by the time you’ve eaten it all, order will be restored Your stockpiles of food will give you time to create your own ongoing food sources and to become self sufficient
Energy Some candles, flashlights, warm blankets, open fires, and a generator You’ll reduce your energy needs and rely on a generator and stockpiled fuel, perhaps using some in-place renewable energy sources too. Stockpiled fuel will be used carefully as you transition to energy independence and renewable sources
Defense Stay at home.  Biggest threat will probably be rude/pushy neighbors.  Hopefully no lethal threats or responses needed. Moderately uncoordinated groups of starving people or opportunistic raiders, will probably be able to be repelled by presentation of weapons and maybe occasional skirmishes.  They are looking for easy targets. Organized groups will battle among themselves for regional supremacy, and will ‘fight to the finish’ to take over the assets and resources of others.  Expect stolen military weapons as well as civilian rifles/shotguns/pistols to be used.
Transportation Stay at home Necessary to get to your retreat.  Little need to travel outside your retreat boundaries. Necessary to get to your retreat.  Occasional travel to trade with other groups, roads degraded, few mechanized vehicles.  Pushbikes and horse drawn carts become the norm.  Travel is dangerous due to risks from marauders.
Communication Hopefully some normal forms of comms remain operative – radio, tv, land line, cell phone, internet. Traditional comms largely degraded or disrupted.  Short-range two-way radios to keep in touch with other members of your group.  Shortwave radio receiver for general news. Traditional comms all gone.  Long range two-way radio for comms within your group, and to interact with other groups and to understand the world situation and what the future may bring.
Group Size Small.  You can survive just fine, even if alone. Medium.  Your group/community will essentially be the people who share the retreat with you, providing social interaction, extra skills and additional manpower for some tasks. Large.  You need access to as broad a range of skills as possible, and in a nearby region due to dangers and difficulties of traveling.
Cost of Preparing Low – less than $10,000; probably less than $1,000. High – More than $100,000; potentially as much as $1 million (but possibly shared among a group of people). Maximum :  Everything you can afford and more besides.  Definitely requires group participation to make high-cost items affordable.

When Does Each Level Evolve to the Next Level

Determining the type of event you’re facing depends on three things.  The event itself, the reactions/responses of other people, and the level of preparedness you already have in place.

If you have a realistic 5 year supply of everything you could possibly need, you’re in a Level 2 situation for any event that promises to be resolved within that five year situation.  But if you only have a six month supply, then you’re forced to adopt Level 3 measures even if the event seems likely to be resolved within a year.

And if you’re prepared only for Level 1 events, you’re way short on options for any type of Level 2 or 3 event.

If society ‘gracefully degrades’ without rampant lawlessness, and if support mechanisms remain in place, then what could have become a Level 2 – 3 event may remain as an ‘easy’ Level 2 event.  But if society explodes, then even a survivable Level 1 event assumes Level 2 status due to the need to evacuate the city.

At the risk of repeating ourselves, you need to consider how you can improve your preparedness to be able to respond adequately to Level 2 and Level 3 events.  There’s no real trick to lasting out Level 1 situations, but even a mild Level 2 event will be life threatening to many people in the affected area.  Speak to us about the Code Green Prep cooperative communities, and how it might be possible for you to find strength, safety, security, and financial feasibility as part of a larger group of fellow preppers.

53 Replies to “The Three Levels of Preparing”

  1. Katie

    Very clear breakdown of levels. Thanks for the blog and all the info you provide.

    Most are spinning in my head and it’s nice to see/read with clarity that we are not nuts for preparing.

  2. Jenna

    My county is “new/Undecided”. I’m not sure what that means. But personally, I am most preparing for a snow disaster or tornado.

    And since my area is so rural, I wouldn’t rely on FEMA help anyway.

  3. Christina Hermann

    I live in Northeast Ohio and as far as I know I’m the only one of my friends prepping and have found no prepping communities in my area.

    Any suggestions/help?

  4. Tamara Rogers

    I am very interested in more information on group 2 and 3.

    I have been working to prepare in the best way I know how, little bit by little bit. I have learned so much reading helpful blogs and such. Do you have information you can email me?

    I would like to know what the cost would be to join, how that price would work for families w/ children. I would also like to know what the expectations of others in the group would be, how responsibilites would be divided up and etc. I would also know if as a group of individuals we would be have any meet and greets or anything like that.

    As I am sure that you realize, there are so many things that go into preparing something like this and when you’re counting on someone else to help you through it, you need to know they are reliable enough to actually be there.

    I think these are all the questions I have for the moment. I appreciate you taking the time to arrange something of this nature.

  5. AnAmericanWoman

    I have two fairly close work friends who are always saying— they want us in my family to join with their extended-family in upper north east Texas. Which sounds good and dandy–Until– they say they want me to box up & bring all my food & goods (that i have been working so hard to create for almost 4 years) now—to their home/compound out in the sticks by a lake.

    I said — let me think about it several times. Then I told them– not at this time. Even though they want to (share skills) and work together to survive etc. it sounds good until—it always requires me ((to bring my stock pile of food & goods to their location.))

    Now—just an FYI kind of thing, I am in my own brick home in a fairly “rural location” 45 miles from them so– why can’t they send me their stuff instead? I figure its because– he who has the guns “controls” the stuff. No one gets in or out unless you let them.

    I watched a doomsday prepper show recently–where the husband & wife got a messy divorce after the show aired and he got the house & property and she got the food stock pile—but he won’t let her come to the compound to get any of it. 🙁 See what I mean? She will need to bring the police with her just to get at any of the food she made and canned. which was substantial.

    I too have worked very hard to cook and can my garden produce and other food supplies— I am not about to just give it to people I have never met in my friends family—who “say” they want to share a space together for added strength for protection. I need to meet them and for some reason that just never happens no matter how often I bring that up. lol

    I wasn’t born yesterday. If it feels wrong –don’t do it. We were given these (survival instincts) for a reason. Listen to what they tell you before you act. God Bless,

  6. Brent Eamer

    A little over the top at level three I think.

    There will be no fuel for roving gangs to get to where you are at to take stuff. If I am in the country, roving gangs are not coming out to a low population density setting to steal low density resources.

    The cities are the worst place to be. Look at the locust; they don’t fly hundreds of miles for a grain of wheat, they settle on acres of wheat, The roving gangs will starve and run out of energy by the time they get to my ‘ten gallons of gas’.

    • David Spero

      Hi, Brent

      Thanks for your comments and thoughts.

      Can we look at the locust analogy that you cite a bit further. What do they do after they’ve stripped a crop field bare? They move on, right?

      Well, that’s going to be the case in a Level 2/3 situation too. Sure, the roving gangs will go first where the pickings are easiest (although who’s not to say that maybe going into low density rural settings, where they can pick off homesteaders, one by one, isn’t actually easier than going into an ongoing urban battle zone).

      However, as the easy picking become depleted, they’re going to move onwards and outwards. Sooner or later, they’ll end up near to you.

      Now for the other issue you quite properly bring up. Shortages of gas. That will definitely constrain the mobility of gangs. But – go watch a western, or two or three. Bad guys, outlaws, and renegade Indians could all travel long distances by horse. If we get into an extended Level 3 situation, the bad guys will get horses.

      There’s another issue, too. The bad guys might well decide – for the same reasons as us good guys – that the best place for them to be in is in our backyard. They want to be safely away from other bad guys, and as I mentioned just a few paragraphs previously, low density rural areas are ideal for mobile forces to savage and ravage. They can attack individual homesteaders as and when they choose.

      I do agree that in the early stages of a long term scenario, the cities will be absolutely the worst place to be. But after a month or three, the cities will become largely empty. The former city dwellers will either be dead or else they’ll have moved out into the countryside, looking for food and shelter. Sooner or later these people will indeed end up somewhere close to you.

      A realistic strategy has to assume that you’ll encounter unfriendly bad guys sooner or later.

      • Brent Eamer

        I think the roving gangs will slowly be picked off. Horses need to be fed and looked after. As far as my backyard, yes, true enough. Only if there are resources. But we could debate this forever. As far as resources. Roving gangs would go after food and water. If I had none, but possessed the skills to forage for this, I would be perceived as not worth going after. We have to study the hierarchy of needs. The concept of gangs would not be likely in a level 3. Society would slowly build it’s way back up, after the ‘snowflakes’ realize it is not getting any better. I see a return of more of how the aboriginals lived. Now mind you, Im originality from Eastern Ontario, and the Mohawks/Iroquois battled occasionally but for the most part coexisted together (Could that be considered ‘gangs’)

        I ramble :), but it is interesting all round. Given the face that the U.S culturally is an armed republic (I live in Canada). I see all sorts of trouble in a level 1 transitioning to a level 2

        Very thought provoking nonetheless and a a good read.


  7. David

    Excellent article and a concept that I often try to get across to people. people sometimes say “back to the stone age” when a moments thought would show that we will be surrounded by metal. Stainless steel.. great stuff. But I very much agree with the idea that many preps will just be a buffer to get us thru to self sufficiency after a few years of level 3. Having the old style hand tools will be a great help.

    I live in New Zealand.. the country which is a retreat “state”. But I would not want to be in our big cities after a level 3. I live rurally.. but I often wonder.. how far is far enough. It is very nice to have a small town with good Drs and a hospital not too far away.

    • David Spero

      Hi, David

      Nice to hear from a Kiwi.

      I’d definitely avoid anywhere from north of, oh, perhaps, some distance ‘the other side’ of an arc from Tauranga through Rotorua and then back up to south of Cambridge and across to the coast, and then everything excluded until perhaps north of Whangarei so as to keep well clear of the Auckland metroplex. Then there’s the area south of (just north of) Palmerston North, to avoid the Wellington sprawl.

      In the North Island I’d give some thought to the Gisborne area. It is reasonably isolated – the drive either north through the Waioeka Gorge (which is sure to get sealed off after one of the many slips/slides it seems to continue to suffer) or south to Napier through those winding roads will deter most people. Gisborne itself and its region might have a chance at food self sufficiency, but I’d be much happier with a few less aggressive ‘entitlement focused’ maoris in the region; I worry about their propensity to degenerate to a lawless state and cause problems.

      The South Island is of course easier, especially away from Christchurch and Dunedin and Invercargill, although weather conditions can then become slightly more of a factor.


      David S.

      • David

        Hi David S, Nice to meet you so to speak…:-). You are VERY knowledgeable about NZ. I am married to an ex California girl so am quite familiar with the USA compared to most. I could have ended up in the USA if things had gone a little differently. I will reply to your e mail points here too .. just to inform readers who might be interested.

        I live the Bay of Plenty (aptly named from an agricultural view) near Whakatane. The town that still has a small hospital..where we often get service that you would NOT get in the big city. However as you would know we are deep in Maori country ..which is an issue which exercises our minds re SHTF. The Tuhoe raids took place close to here.

        I have been here for 30 yrs .. we bought when land was cheap, and could not get that deal again. Ideal site.. small farm backing onto major forest, abundant water, mild winter. We eat our own oranges..beautiful tree ripened.. and have just finished canning our own apples. Lots of nut tress. Not too far to the coast.. fishing and shellfish.

        Having been “preparing” for 30 yrs I am happy that we did not get too far from civilization and we still have had access to shops and schools etc. We have a short “dirt” road.. and I am glad it is not longer. Dust in summer.. mud in winter. Then a sealed road 20miles to town.
        I am now over 60 and well remember the good old days of import restriction you mention. However we love being able to now have cheap cars and cheap electronics ( not to mention shoes and clothes). So I like the open economy. We can still get hunting rifles here .. unlike Australia… ( more like Canada) , but no handguns.
        I have just read “Surviving survivalism ” e book. I recommend it. But they live VERY remote and HARSH CLIMATE. I take my hat off to them.. but.. it’s not easy..

        Cheers, David ( more later if people are interested).

  8. Orion Darkwood

    Good write up on the different prepper levels, however I disagree to the cost required for the levels. I have been prepping for almost 15 years and I feel comfortable in saying that according to your chart I am ready for level 2 maybe even level 3 and I have spend a fraction of what you say it will cost. I have got alot of my prepping supplies for cheap or for free by using craigslist, dumpster diving, picking things on that are left on the side of the road, barter, swap meets, flea markets, ebay and other sources.

    I will agree that if I had to go purchase everything retail and pay the markup most self reliance stores charge I may spend that much but I am not sure. I would like to know what items you believe are required that would command such a high price tag. I know solar panels are one but I am only investing in small portable panels to minimize breakage and maximize solar output. I am planning on using wind, pedal power and methane burners for electricity which I am working on getting my usage to a bare minimum.

    • Texasfilly

      Orion ~ I agree with most of what you say. I have also done dumpster diving, trading, craigslist and dollar and thrift stores. I am not nearly as prepped as I would like to be but I do feel I am way ahead of others. I agree w/David that having /developing a “retreat” is going to be the most expensive. Right now we are simply preparing to “bug in”. I was totally overwhelmed when I started but then I started just focusing one doing (and completing) one thing at a time.

  9. David Spero

    Hi, Orion

    Thanks for writing, and thanks for the strategies you mention for sourcing needed supplies at low cost.

    The cost numbers I threw out there were intended as indicative and relative, rather than exact and supported by a spreadsheet list of items and costs, and that’s why they vary by an order of magnitude in each of the three categories. Some people will consider themselves well prepped below the low end of each range, others will still be spending way above the high end.

    To directly answer your specific question, the most expensive item of all, without a doubt, is developing a suitable retreat. That is unavoidably a six or seven figure cost item.

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